All hail Penny Arcade. Her latest, solo show – Longing Last Longer – knifes gentrification in the guts in a non-stop orgy of conceptual homicide.
Deliciously stoked and provoked by the severe, outrageously queer Gospel of Quentin Crisp, she’s a multiple-orgasm messiah high on life, love and luxuriant language. Ah, but Quentin’s brilliant, misanthropic spite – an anguished, solitary voice of sanity in a worldwide disturbed ward – is only one voice in Penny’s polyphonic choir of existential fire. Frankly, she’s our Dante, Allan Ginsberg and Martin Luther King sex-changed to a post-indulgence, Mad Max Furiosa, a warrior poetess par excellence. All punk-rock poison to mass stupidity, and spitting incandescent, revelatory bile, she massacres cultural mediocrity on the spot.
It’s a gorgeous execution. Pointless identity politics and thought-police Nazis – the PC shock-jocks – are ruthlessly dispatched with stunning erudition and torn limb from linguistic limb. So they should be. Why lobotomise ourselves with divisive labels that set one social faction against another? Don’t fascist police states do that already? And that’s where Penny’s sublime, sheer art-attack joyously weighs in. Forget theatre; Longing Lasts Longer is language as visionary music, words and concepts blown as intoxicating, be-bop virtuoso jazz solos.
Utterly fearless, following no star but her own, outré contrariness and distrust of any authority – even her own! – Penny furiously asks the unsayable. Indiscriminately puking on taboos Labour, Tory and anarchist, she explodes orthodoxies cemented by dogma as utterly facile. And her most contentious target? Arguably, the mythic chimera of sexual freedom. Whatever labels our preening egos prefer – gay, bi, trans or straight – the physical reality is that females nurture and males take. ‘The biological imperative sees no difference between a c*** and an arsehole’, Penny declares with bravura crudity. How right she is. Guys will stick their dicks in anything; hello, glory holes? And even razor blades in prostitute pussies didn’t deter vets in Vietnam.
But don’t get her wrong. No prude, Penny’s partied for 45 years, the show’s soundtrack brilliantly accenting her excesses with a sonic blizzard of Nirvana, The Doors, Prince and more. Free your mind and your ass will follow, indeed; this is culture cut loose from classrooms and set wildly free as hot, sweaty, erotic dance. ‘I haven’t watched TV for 40 years’ Penny says, and why would she? She’s too busy living, the only known antidote to bovine, terminally-addicted consumerism and online ennui.
Impassioned, on a hugely physical and flame-haired roll, she decries the certifiably insane world of compulsory self-censorship and hair-trigger text warnings we’re sleepwalking into. ‘Mediocrity is the new black’ (as in fashion essential) Penny cries, and she’s so hilariously on the money it hurts. Apparently, even skimming textual trauma triggers the reality, so how vulnerable students approach American bestseller the Bible – crammed with sex and horror – beggars belief.
Frighteningly, Penny explains, our very powers of expression – a Niagara Falls of nuances – are being systematically impoverished by corporate consensus. Terrified to even expect sustained attention spans, we Twitter ourselves en masse to gnomic vapidity. George Orwell’s novel 1984 termed the process ‘Doublespeak’; with complex language deliberately erased, even imagining abstract concepts is impossible. Which perfectly suits repressive regimes and aggressive capitalism; the more inarticulate, easily swayed and passive drones we become, the better
‘You can’t call yourself fierce and demand a safe space outside of a mental hospital’ Penny inarguably states, succinctly nailing the paradox of fake, lip-service rebellion. So what will you do when, not if, the state dictates your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Penny’s answer is taking brilliantly-argued responsibility for her entire life, completely owning each trauma and rapture, with not a single, squandered second. Will you do as much? Don’t delay; ‘The roses in the shops have lost their scent’, Penny bewails, a shockingly astute, contemporary human metaphor. The message is plain, and passionately perfect; either live your own life now, on your own terms, or have it lived for you. Choose life. Choose passion. Choose Penny Arcade. She’s perfect salvation in a soundbite.